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San Francisco Police Chief Will No Longer Release Booking Photos to Avoid Racial Bias Against Presumably Innocent People

The San Francisco Police Department announced it will no longer release most booking photos due to concerns about racial bias.

SFPD Chief Bill Scott announced the change through a news release. The department now will not publicize mugshots “except in circumstances where their release is necessary to warn the public of imminent danger or to enlist the public’s assistance in locating individuals, including at-risk persons.”

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott announced the SFPD will no longer release most booking photos as a way to curb racial bias. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Scott reportedly instituted the change to avoid the racial profiling of people who have not been convicted of a crime.

“This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior,” Scott said in a statement. “By implementing this groundbreaking new policy today, SFPD is taking a stand that walks the walk on implicit bias while affirming a core principle of procedural justice — that those booked on suspicion of a crime are nonetheless presumed innocent of it.”

There are other departments that do not release pictures, but SFPD is believed to be the first force to explicitly name concerns about racial bias. San Francisco Police Commissioner John Hamasaki called the change “an excellent first step.”

“Just because somebody is arrested doesn’t mean they are responsible for whatever acts they’ve been arrested for. That’s why we have a presumption of innocence in this country enshrined in our Constitution,” he told CNN.

Booking photos are taken when someone is being processed by a jail and shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of guilt or innocence. The photos are often posted online via police websites, social media and news releases. Third-party sites also collect the photos and post them in a gallery. These websites often charge a fee if someone requests the removal of a photo.

“For a democratic society, we’re very cavalier about people’s rights and the presumption of innocence,” Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told The Associated Press. “We take people’s freedom away and ruin people’s reputations before anybody’s ever made a decision as to whether or not the person committed the offense.”

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